As a Mets fan, if you had to guess what my worst fear this off-season is, you’d probably say, the possibility of losing Jose Reyes to free agency, without a doubt. But you’d be wrong - it’s not. My biggest fear would be to come to find out that Reyes wasn’t even given a fair offer due to financial instability of the Mets owners. It’s no secret that the NY Mets are hard-up for cash. After failing to sell a large stake of their ballclub this past season, the Mets principal owners, the Wilpons, have opted to sell off their most-coveted asset, piece by piece. If that approach somehow manages to be successful, there may still be some hope for Mets fans that the organization could generate enough capital to keep their home-grown superstar from fleeing elsewhere.
Realistically though, with a projected payroll for this upcoming season significantly reduced from last year’s and a general manager like Sandy Alderson who believes that a fertile farm system wins championships, common sense would tell you that Reyes is on his way out. Under that scenario, the Mets roster could likely resemble a much slower, cheaper, and not so stronger squad heading into 2012. Now I know what you’re thinking, it can’t all be that bad. There are still plenty of high expectations even if the All-Star shortstop is nowhere to be found in the Mets clubhouse come Opening Day.
For a second, why not put the up-to-the-minute Reyes coverage on hold and take a deep breath? Savor the possibility of a full season with Ruben Tejada at shortstop and Ike Davis at first. Add in David Wright, if he doesn’t get traded, at third base, and you may have something there. Sprinkle in a little Lucas Duda in right to complement veterans Jason Bay and Angel Pagan in left and center and things don’t seem half bad. Almost looking up, you could say? Plus, if the front office decides to move either Bay or Pagan next year, they do have options in their farm system to plug that hole. Kirk Nieuwenhuis (pronounced New-en-hoos), a 24-year-old center fielder who has made a steady climb in the Mets farm system since he was drafted in 2008, has shown a propensity to get on base in addition to extra-base power. Although, like most young hitters, he’s had more then his fair share of swings and misses.
Of course, there is a catch. The Mets need pitching and the word on the street is that with Johan Santana’s status still up-in-the-air, the current starting staff is nothing more than a bunch of back-of-the-rotation arms. To make matters worse, one of the few promising bright spots in the rotation last year actually did better than expected and is now demanding a multi-year contract. Left-hander Chris Capuano, who was considered low-risk, high-reward before the 2011 campaign, finished the season hitting all his benchmarks, in good health and eligible to re-sign with another club. Alderson’s confidence has wavered when asked if he’s capable of committing the 33-year-old left-hander to anything more that a one-year deal. But that should be the least of Mets fans’ worries.
In desperate need of improvement is the Mets bullpen which doesn’t even have a closer at this point. It’s safe to say that they could benefit from a little spending in this department. Unlike starting pitching, the free agent market for relievers is bursting at the seams. Viable candidates to close out games such as Ryan Madson, Matt Capps, Brad Lidge or Frank Francisco would all command an asking price that is way above what Alderson had in mind. So with all this talk of reducing payroll, where does this leave Mets fans who are trying to remain optimistic even when all signs point elsewhere? The division that their team plays in, the NL East has and will continue to remain competitive on and off the field.
To quell some of these concerns, the Mets do have some strong young arms on the horizon. Zack Wheeler, who was acquired in the Carlos Beltran trade, is considered a top-flight pitcher with great mechanics at High-A Port Lucie, but Mets fans will probably not see the 21-year-old right-hander until 2013. An even better upside is another right-hander, 22-year-old Jeurys Familia, who is sure to start the 2012 season at Triple-A Buffalo, and could be seen in a big-league uniform sooner rather than later. Familia’s stuff has been compared to that of Seattle’s Michael Pineda. September call-up, anyone?
If I had to give advice to Mets fans this off-season, I would tell them to proceed with caution as they evaluate the team for the upcoming season. There are still a whole lot of ‘what ifs’ left to answer. Until then, Mets fans will have to continue in a holding pattern and wait. To help pass the time, I suggest trying to combine the phrases, “payroll flexibility” and “largest media market” in the same sentence. I still haven’t been able to wrap my head around that one.
This post also ran on Baseball Digest.com.